Councilman's lease plan would evict Boy Scouts
By Timothy Cwiek
May 10, 2006
City Councilman Darrell Clarke says he's willing to introduce legislation requiring comprehensive anti-bias language
in the city's lease agreements with all groups, including the local branch of the Boy Scouts of America.
Clarke's council district includes the Ben Franklin Parkway, where the local BSA branch has been headquartered
near 22nd Street since 1928.
The BSA branch occupies a city-owned building on one-half acre of land at the location. The chapter, which excludes
gays and atheists, does not pay rent to the city.
Clarke told PGN May 2 that the Scouts could be forced to vacate the building if Scout leaders refuse to sign a
lease with language prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals.
"There should be anti-bias language in their lease agreement with the city," Clarke said. "If they
don't have a lease, then they shouldn't be in the building."
The Scouts have saved millions of dollars over the years due to their rent-free arrangement, according to city
Clarke had no opinion on whether the Scouts also should pay rent to the city.
"That's not my issue," he added. "But if they have a discriminatory policy, they shouldn't be operating
in a city facility."
Clarke also said he'd be willing to support public hearings on the subject, if necessary. But the councilman said
it may be possible to amend the Scouts' lease without enacting legislation in City Council or holding public hearings.
Clarke emphasized that he wasn't singling out the Boy Scouts.
"Any group that leases property from the city should sign this type of lease agreement," he said.
He said Mayor John F. Street supports his position.
Street's spokesperson, Joseph Grace, could not be reached for comment.
Stacey Sobel, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, told PGN that a citizens' group
has been in contact with key city officials about the Scout situation.
She said the Scouts operate under a policy that excludes gays and others from participation, and that the city's
current lease agreement with the Scouts could give the impression that the city endorses the Scouts' exclusionary
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of the BSA to exclude gays.
In 2003, the local BSA council, known as the Cradle of Liberty Council, passed an anti-bias policy covering gays,
but quickly rescinded the policy after national BSA officials threatened to take away the council's charter.
Due to the repeal of the policy, several charitable groups stopped funding the council, including the Philadelphia
Foundation, the Pew Foundation and the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
William T. Dwyer 3d, scouting executive for the Cradle of Liberty Council, told PGN last week that the council
is very concerned about the perception that it operates in a biased manner.
He declined to speculate about the future of the council. Without revealing any details, Dwyer said members of
the council are seeking to resolve the issue in an acceptable manner.
"Please be patient," he said.
But patience is wearing thin for activists such as Sobel.
"We'd like this matter resolved sooner rather than later," she said. "I think people have been extraordinarily
patient when it comes to the Boy Scouts. We've given them many opportunities to work with us. We've tried to set
up meetings with them, to sit down and talk about the issue. And they've refused to do that. I think we've shown
The Cradle of Liberty Council encompasses 110 municipalities, and Philadelphia isn't the only municipality with
residents concerned about lease agreements with the Scouts.
In Cheltenham Township, resident David Flaks wants the township commissioners to pass an ordinance requiring groups
leasing township property to sign lease agreements with anti-bias clauses that include sexual orientation.
"[The Scouts] have a right as a private group to discriminate, according to the Supreme Court," Flaks
told PGN. "But I don't want them on public property if they discriminate. I don't want my tax dollars paying
Flaks said township officials grant Scouts the use of at least two buildings located on township-owned property.
Township Commissioner Charles D. McKeown, who described himself as a "Republicrat," told PGN he didn't
see the need for additional legislation regarding the Scouts.
"This is a beautiful community to live in and especially to raise children," he said. "I just think
it's not being productive at all to push for more changes. Just let it be."
Township Commissioner President Morton J. Simon said the commissioners are studying the matter. He couldn't say
whether an ordinance would be introduced, as suggested by Flaks.
But Simon noted that township officials recently moved to make government buildings accessible to a wider range
of township youths, rather than limiting usage to Boy Scouts.
"I think that was very significant," he said.
George Biagi, a San Diego activist, offered moral support to Flaks and others.
"The current trend in case law seems to suggest that the Boy Scouts can't lease public property without having
more inclusive membership policies," Biagi said. "In San Diego, we're in the middle of litigation attempting
to require the Boy Scouts to change their membership policies or discontinue their preferential leasing arrangements
on San Diego-owned public land. We had a recent victory in federal court, but the case remains in litigation."